FDA Finally Agrees To Test Food For Monsanto's Glyphosate Weedkiller

The World Health Organization has declared the herbicide, widely used in farming, a probable carcinogen in humans.

02/18/2016 10:38 pm ET

The Food and Drug Administration will begin testing corn, soybeans and other foods for the presence of glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide, according to the blog Civil Eats.

The decision comes almost a year after the World Health Organization declared that the chemical, the active ingredient in the popular weedkiller Roundup, likely causes cancer in humans.

Civil Eats, in an article published Wednesday, quoted FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher as saying the agency is "considering assignments" for the current fiscal year to "measure glyphosate in soybeans, corn, milk, and eggs, among other potential foods.” 

By testing for residues of the chemical, the FDA may answer longstanding concerns about whether it ends up in the food supply. If detected in large amounts, the industry would likely see an increased demand for stricter regulations.

Glyphosate is widely used in farming, in conjunction with genetically engineered seeds that can withstand its toxic properties, and has been linked to various health and environmental concerns. Monsanto, which patented the herbicide in the 1970s, maintains it is effective and safe.

DAN GILL/AP
A farmer holds Monsanto's Roundup Ready Soy Bean seeds.

The FDA and other regulatory agencies already test for pesticides, but glyphosate -- one of the most ubiquitous herbicides -- has never been on the FDA's list.

Among the groups that welcomed the FDA announcement was the Center for Biological Diversity, which noted in a statement that glyphosate has been named as a leading cause of massive declines in monarch butterflies.

Nathan Donley, a scientist with the group, said it was "shocking" it took the FDA so long to agree to testing. He added that he's "glad it's finally going to happen."

More and more scientists are raising concerns about the effects of glyphosate on human health and the environment," said Donley, adding that FDA data is "badly needed to facilitate long-overdue conversations about how much of this chemical we should tolerate in our food."

Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know, agreed testing is a "good first step," but said it must be thorough and widespread. He encouraged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to join the effort. 

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. 

The FDA said a main reason it did not test for the herbicide in the past was because the available methods were "very cost- and labor-intensive to implement in FDA field labs," according to a statement to Agri-Pulse. New "streamlined methods" have made testing for glyphosate cheaper, the FDA said.

Monsanto said it hadn't received confirmation of the FDA plans for residue testing. The company said glyphosate’s 40-year history has demonstrated its safety to the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators.

"If FDA does move forward with additional testing in a scientifically rigorous manner, we are confident it will reaffirm the long-standing safety profile of this vital tool used safely and effectively by farmers, landowners and homeowners around the world," Monsanto said in a statement.

Monsanto's patent on the herbicide expired in 2000, but the St. Louis-based company continues to reap about $5 billion annually in sales from glyphosate, Civil Eats reported.

Last month, Monsanto filed a lawsuit that seeks to prevent California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment from adding glyphosate to the state's list of known carcinogens.

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